Owning and Renting Property

Dealing with a Property Line Dispute: Don’t Fence Me In (or Out)

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Good fences make good neighbors, right? That’s what the poet Robert Frost said, at least. But what if a fence (or a tree or another property line issue) leads to an argument with your neighbor?

Most neighbor disputes over property lines are easily resolved. Some, though, can turn ugly. If you’re in an argument with a neighbor over a property issue, follow these steps:

1. Stay civil.

Don’t use this disagreement to vent months or years of anger at your neighbor. That will only escalate the situation. Your goal should be to resolve the issue fairly, quickly and calmly — so keep your temper in check.

2. Hire a surveyor.

This is no time to make an educated guess about property lines. Even if you’re sure you know the exact location of the line, it’s still a good idea to hire a surveyor so you have documented proof. The typical cost of a surveyor ranges from $330 - $670 but your cost could be higher or lower depending on where you live, and the size and history of the lot.

3. Check your community's laws.

Property line laws vary by state, and some cities may also have their own property line ordinances. Make sure you fully understand the laws that apply to your specific situation before going head-to-head with your neighbor.

4. Try to reach a neighbor-to-neighbor agreement.

Reaching an agreement between the two of you — without involving attorneys and/or the court system — is generally the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to resolve neighbor property line disputes. Once you’ve reached an agreement, both of you can sign a deed that details the perimeters of the land. You should work with an attorney to sign the deed, which will then need to be filed with your county recorder’s office or land registry office.

5. Use a mediator.

A professional mediator can be a low-cost, low-stress way to resolve your property line dispute if you and your neighbor can’t reach an agreement on your own. Check with your local courthouse, police precinct or bar association to find a qualified mediator. Or check with the National Association for Community Mediation.

6. Have your attorney send a letter.

If you can’t reach an agreement with your neighbor on your own, a letter from your attorney is a reasonable next step. It lets your neighbor know you mean business before pursuing further legal action. The letter should detail the property line violation and ask for a specific action to resolve the situation.

7. File a lawsuit.

This should be your last resort. Lawsuits can cost thousands of dollars and drag on for many months, if not years. If you do decide to take legal action, you should make sure you’re working with an attorney who regularly handles property dispute cases and is familiar with state and local laws.

Neighbor disputes can make your home life uncomfortable — if not downright miserable. To help increase your chances of success, arm yourself with information. Consulting an experienced real estate attorney is a good idea at any point in the process. The knowledge you gain may keep you from making costly missteps. And it could help you bring the whole disagreement to an end sooner rather than later.

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